Archives for category: Healthy eating

open lateWhen it comes to losing weight, many people believe that what matters isn’t the time of day you eat, but rather the total number of calories you eat throughout the day.

However, recent evidence shows that this may not necessarily be true. Two studies published in 2013 found that eating the majority of calories earlier in the day may actually help to improve weight loss results.

Study 1:

Researchers divided 74 overweight and obese women into two weight loss groups, each consuming 1400 calories per day: a breakfast group and a dinner group. The breakfast group ate a larger breakfast, consuming 700 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch, and 200 calories at dinner. The dinner group consumed 200 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch, and 700 calories at dinner.

The results: after 12 weeks, the breakfast group lost more weight (2.5 times more) and had a greater reduction in waist circumference than the dinner group. Interestingly, the breakfast group also had greater feelings of fullness than the dinner group.

Study 2:

The second study was performed in Spain, where people eat their main meal at lunch. In this study, the researchers studied 420 obese women on a weight loss program. Participants were grouped into early eaters or late eaters, depending on when they ate their main meal. The early eaters ate lunch before 1 PM and late eaters ate lunch after 1 PM.

The results: after 20 weeks, the early eaters lost more weight and lost it quicker than the late eaters, even though energy intake and expenditure were similar between the two groups.

Why is this happening?

The reasons behind why this phenomenon occurs are still unknown, however researchers have found that gene expression in adipose tissue (fat storage tissue) may follow a circadian rhythm. This means that the storage and mobilization of fat may occur at different rates depending on the time of day.



Jakubowicz, D., Barnea, M., Wainstean, J. & Froy, D. (2013). High caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity, 21(12), 204-2512.

Garaulet, M. Gomez-Abellan, P., Alburquerque-Bejar, J., Lee, Y., Ordovas, J. & Scheer, F. (2013). Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. International Journal of Obesity, 37, 604-611.

low_carb_comic1-300x215Since the beginning of January I have heard many people talking about how they are trying to eat better and are on a specific diet or cleanse. If weight loss is your goal, dieting (severely restricting calories) may not be the way to go. Don’t get me wrong, they do work–in the short term. However, statistics show that 97% of people who lose weight on a restrictive diet regain the weight they have lost (and sometimes even more) within three years.

In addition, weight loss without exercise can cause one to lose lean tissue (muscle).  When the weight is gained back, it is gained back as fat. The result is a change is body composition leaning towards a higher percentage of body fat.

So what is the best way to lose weight permanently? The answer is simple– to make permanent lifestyle changes. These changes include making exercise and physical activity a regular part of your routine and making smarter choices with the food that you eat.

Here are 5 ways to get started on your journey to health:

1. Get moving

If you are new to exercise, start slowly. A great way to start exercising is by walking. Set some time aside in your day to go for a walk, or find some time to incorporate more walking into your day. For example, if you drive to work, park about a 10 minute walk away. The 10 minute walk to work and the 10 minute walk back to your car five days per week adds up to 100 extra minutes of exercise per week.

2. Eat whole grains

Whole grains are much more nutritious than refined grains. In addition, because they are higher in fiber they help you to feel more full, which means that you will eat less. Start by trying out whole or sprouted grain breads, replacing white rice with brown rice, or trying out a new grain such as quinoa, whole wheat couscous or barley.

3. Eat protein at breakfast

Your body is better able to make use of protein if it is eaten throughout the day, rather than in large amounts at dinner or lunch. This is especially important for those trying to gain muscle.  Eating protein in the morning also helps you to feel more satisfied, which means you will likely eat less unhealthy snacks later in the day. Good sources of protein include lean meats, fish, eggs, soy, dairy, nuts and legumes.

4. Have an apple a day

Everyone has heard the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, science shows that there is a lot of truth to that statement. Eating more apples (as well as other fruit and vegetables) can improve cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of disease, including breast cancer.

5. Eat your greens

Dark green vegetables are low in calories and  rich in nutrients. They contain many vitamins including A, C, E and K as well as B vitamins. They are also rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. These are all nutrients that many Canadians do not get enough of.  To further convince you on the importance of eating greens, check out this article.

carb511The question I probably get the most about nutrition is: “What type of diet do you recommend?” When people ask this question they are expecting a simple answer such as Paleo, gluten-free, or vegan.

The truth is that there is no one best diet for everyone.

Here are some of the factors that contribute to my definition of a healthy diet:

1. Adequacy

Your diet should provide adequate nutrients to meet your individual needs. Quite often a diet that eliminates an entire food group will put a person at risk of nutrient deficiency. For example, the Paleo diet eliminates dairy products. If other calcium-rich foods are not included to replace dairy, it puts one at risk of a calcium deficiency. Remember, osteoporosis is an old age disease. Cave men didn’t live long enough have to worry about it.

2. Variety

The diet should include a variety of choices. Not only does this prevent boredom, but it also limits the chance of over- or under-consuming nutrients.

3. Moderation

No food should be eaten in excess and no food needs to be completely eliminated (except in the case of allergies, religion, or ethics). Nutrient excess can be as dangerous as nutrient inadequacy.

4. Calorie control

A diet should provide the appropriate number of calories to meet your individual needs. Diets higher in calories are required to fuel physical activity and growth. If weight loss is the goal, calories should be low enough to promote fat loss, but high enough to provide adequate energy and to prevent metabolism disruption.

5. Enjoyable

The food you are eating should be enjoyable to eat and enjoyable to prepare. Quite simply, if you don’t like the food you are eating it will not be sustainable long-term.

6. Affordable

Your grocery bill should fit within you budget. For example, a diet that calls for multiple servings of meat or expensive powders and supplements is likely not financially sustainable.

The bottom line:

There are many factors involved in the makeup of a healthy diet. Eating healthy should not be viewed as a temporary fix, but as a long-term solution.


You may have noticed varieties of squash appearing in your local grocery store or market. Here is a short guide for choosing, storing, and cooking this versatile vegetable.


Winter squash is a very nutrient dense food. It is a good to excellent source of beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamin C (depending on the variety), and also contains folate and iron. It is low in calories and is fat free. For example, 1/2 cup of cooked butternut squash provides 40 calories, 225% of your daily recommended  intake of vitamin A and 26% of vitamin C.


Look for a squash with a hard skin free of cuts or soft spots and a stem that is still attached. A squash that is heavy for it’s size means that there is plenty of edible flesh.


There are many varieties of winter squash available at the market. Here are a few examples:

Spaghetti: This unique squash is oval-shaped and yellow (and sometimes orange). The flesh is light yellow and stringy, like its namesake. Because of its mild flavour, spaghetti squash can easily be integrated into a variety of dishes. However, it tastes delicious simply tossed with butter or olive oil and salt and pepper, or topped with spaghetti sauce. Unlike other winter squash varieties, spaghetti squash is best if cooked al dente.

Acorn: This dark green, acorn-shaped squash has an orange, fibrous flesh. Popular for its small size, acorn squash is best for roasting with butter or oil and maybe a little brown sugar or real maple syrup for the sweet tooth.

Butternut: This tan-coloured, peanut-shaped squash is mild, solid, contains few seeds and is my favourite for soups.


Buttercup: A dark green squash with a rich orange flesh, buttercup squash has a bold sweet flavour and is excellent for roasting, mashing, and in soups.


Raw squash (whole): Winter squash can be stored up to three months in a cool dry place. Leave part of the stem attached to help retain moisture.

Raw squash (cut open): Wrap in plastic wrap or place in a sealed container and store in the fridge up to five days.

Cooked squash: Store in an airtight container in the fridge up to five days or in the freezer for up to a year.


There is a very simple method for cooking winter squash that can be applied to all varieties.

  1. Carefully cut the squash in half vertically with a large knife (you will be cutting the stem in half). If it is a very large squash, you may need to cut it into smaller pieces.
  2. Scoop out the seeds (you can save the seeds for roasting).
  3. Spread the exposed flesh with olive or vegetable oil. Place cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 400°F for about 30-45 minutes (depending on the size and variety) until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork.

Recipes using winter squash:

Butternut squash and apple soup

Quinoa pumpkin muffins

Butternut squash and mascarpone gnocchi

Roasted squash seeds


A great post reinforcing my view on “fitspo” I wrote in an article last year.

Empowering Fitness

What isFitspo?

It’s a popular buzzword, short for Fitness Inspiration, and it’s used to inspire and motivate people to get fit and healthy. It usually involves photos of super fit, lean women, often accompanied by motivating words or phrases like “never give up” or “strong is the new skinny.” Sometimes Fitspo includes photos of fresh healthy food, green juices, or women doing awesome yoga poses in beautiful places. There are tons of blogs devoted to finding, making, and sharing fitspiration. It’s kind of like Thinspiration‘s healthier and happier big sister. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with thinspiration, it’s typically glamorized photos of dangerously thin girls, often passed around as willpower motivation for anorexics. It is a whole new level of horror for those of us in the body-acceptance business.)

So what’s my problem? Fitspo sounds like a great way to motivate the unhealthy masses to…

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change3By Shirley Ley, Certified Canadian Counselor

Success in staying physically fit and eating healthier all starts with how “ready” you are!

Have you ever wondered how some people are able to set exercise and nutrition goals, carry through with them, and achieve them successfully? You may have thought to yourself, “What’s their secret? What do they know that I don’t?”

The truth is, there is no secret.  You may have all of the right information and tools you need to obtain your exercise and nutrition goals. You may have even consulted with a trusted nutritionist or fitness trainer.

But even with the exact prescription for diet and weight loss, I can say with some confidence that you still won’t be able to make those very important lifestyle changes, unless you have one thing  – READINESS.

Said plainly, you may not be ready to make the changes that you need for a healthier you.  If I asked you if you were ready to start exercising or eating healthier your answer won’t be as black and white as “yes I’m ready” or “no I’m not ready”.  In fact, your answer will lie somewhere along a continuum.

And that continuum is what researchers call the stages of change.  To increase your chances of successfully reaching your exercise and nutrition goals, you will need to find out which of the five stages you’re in.  Each stage requires different strategies, tools, and action steps that help you move you closer to your health goals.

Research has shown that people who are successful in reaching their goal of making positive behavioral changes, like adding exercise to their daily routines, cycle through the five stages of change.

Have I piqued your interest? Find out which stage you’re in and what you should do to move yourself to the next stage of change below:

1. Precontemplation

-You have no intention exercising or eating healthier, deny you have a problem with your health, or resist change.

*What to do: Learn more about exercise and eating healthily, think about the pros of changing, and feel the emotions about the effects of unhealthy behaviors.

2. Contemplation

-You start to seriously think about solving your health problems like inactivity or eating unhealthily.

*What to do: Think about the kind of person you would be if you changed your unhealthy lifestyle and learn more from the people who behave in healthy ways.  Reduce the cons of changing your unhealthy habits.

3. Preparation

-You are making plans to change your current lifestyle within the next month.  This stage is extremely important.  People who cut this stage short will lower their chance of successfully achieving their health goals.

*What to do: You’ll need to develop a firm, detailed plan for action to carry you through.  Find support from people that you trust.

4. Action

-You make the move that you’ve been preparing for (eg., start exercising and eating healthily).  This stage requires the commitment of time and energy.  Others might start noticing and complimenting on the gains that you’ve made.

*What to do: Substitute activities relating to unhealthy behavior with positive ones, reward yourself for any positive changes you’ve made, and avoid people or situations that may tempt you to behave in unhealthy ways.

5. Maintenance

-This is where you maintain the gains you’ve made in the action stage to avoid going back to your old routine. This stage is a long and ongoing one. It’s not uncommon for someone to lose many pounds on a diet and exercise plan, only to regain them all in a few months.

*What to do: Seek support from people you trust, spend time with people who behave in healthy ways, and find effective ways of coping rather than turn to unhealthy behavior (eg., forgo your diet plan or skip exercise).

Bottom line is this: You’ll set yourself up for failure if you set up goals for yourself that you’re not ready for.  Similarly, if you choose goals that you’ve already achieved, then you you’ll lose steam and delay your progress.  BUT if you match your goals to your stage of change, then you’ll maximize your chances of successfully reaching your exercise or nutrition goals.

Meet the Author:


Shirley Ley is a Canadian Certified Counsellor, a people enthusiast and an aspiring legacy maker. She thrives off of engaging, meaningful, and life changing conversations and is driven by her passion to enhance positive mental health wellness through one counselling session, one blog, and one workshop at a time.

You can learn more about Shirley and read her blog at:

Reference: Prochaska, J.O., Norcross, J.C., Diclemente, C.C. (1994). Changing for Good. New York: Avon Books.

This is a post I recently wrote as a guest blogger for Clearpoint Counselling of Vancouver, B.C.

morning-exercise-3Regular physical activity has been repeatedly shown to be associated with improved emotional wellbeing.

Research shows that regular exercise is correlated with a reduced prevalence of anxiety disorders and that prescribed exercise can be an effective treatment for anxiety symptoms.

For example, in one Swedish study that followed participants for two years, those who participated in more than two hours of physical activity per week had fewer symptoms of anxiety than those who didn’t.

The physical activity in this study included aerobics, dancing, swimming, playing football and gardening.

How does exercise reduce anxiety?

It is unclear exactly how exercise reduces anxiety symptoms, however there is scientific evidence from both humans and animals that supports several theories:

  1. Exercise can affect your stress levels by altering stress-related hormones.
  2. Exercise can have the same effects as antidepressants. It can increase your serotonin levels which contributes to your feelings of well-being and happiness.
  3. Binding of beta-endorphins in the brain following exercise causes mood elevation, induces euphoria and reduces anxiety.
  4. Exercise may decrease a person’s sensitivity to anxiety through exposure to the physical symptoms they fear, such as increased heart rate.
  5. Exercise works as a distraction from negative thoughts, similar to meditation and quiet rest.

How much exercise is recommended?

According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, in order to achieve health benefits, adults aged 18-64 years should accumulate 150 minutes  (or 2 ½ hours) of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.

What type of exercise is best?

The best type of exercise is the activity that you enjoy the most.

If an activity is enjoyable, you will be more likely to stick with it. For some it could simply be taking the dog for a walk, and for others it could be joining a dance class, hiking or playing tennis.

How to start exercising and doing it safely

If you are new to exercise, it is recommended to first get the go-ahead from your doctor.  The Physical Activity Readiness Form (Par-q) will also give you an idea of whether or not you are ready to start exercising.

While exercising, it is beneficial to monitor your heart rate. This ensures that you are obtaining the most benefit from your exercise, while still staying within a safe intensity range. The recommended range for aerobic activity is between 60% and 85% of your maximum heart rate. If you are new to exercise, stay within bottom half of this range.

(You can calculate your target heart rate range here).

For example, the heart rate range for a 35 year-old would be between 111 and 157 beats per minute.


Anderson, E. & Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry, doi:10.3389fpsyt.2013.00027.

DDHS. (2002). Physical Activity Fundamental to Preventing Disease. Washington: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

Jonsdottir, I.H., Rodjer, L., Hadzibarjramovic, E., Borgessen, M. & Ahlborg, G. (2010). A prospective study of leisure-time physical activity and mental health in Swedish health care workers and social insurance officers. Preventative Medicine, 51(5), 373-377.

Sarris, J., Moylan, S., Camfield, D.A., Pase, M.P., Mischoulon, D., Berk, M., Jacka, F.N., & Schweitzer, I. (2012). Complementary medicine, exercise, meditation, diet, and lifestyle modification for anxiety disorders: a review of current evidence. Evidence-Based Alternative and Complementary Medicine, doi:10.1155/2012/809653.

Zschuke, E., Gaudlitz, K., & Strohle, A. (2013). Exercise and physical activity in mental disorders: clinical and experimental evidence. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, 46, 512-521.

If you ever hear someone say “I don’t have time to exercise. I have too much work to do!”, tell them that along with its many other benefits, exercise can actually improve your performance at work and school.

In fact, research shows that exercise can increase your learning, focus, memory, creativity and cognitive performance. In this video Wendy Suzuki, a faculty member in the Center for Neural Science at New York University, discusses her research on exercise and the brain.

SONY DSCWhen deciding to make positive changes in your diet and health, you don’t need to do a complete overhaul. In fact, changing too much at once can be overwhelming and cause you to be more likely to give up. Instead, try making one simple change in your diet per week. Here are a few examples of very easy changes that can make a big impact on your health:

  1. Swap out a sugary snack for an apple. This change will add 4 g of fibre to your day and 14% of your daily intake of vitamin C.
  2. Cook brown rice instead of white. Brown rice contains 4 times the fibre and much higher levels of vitamins and minerals than white rice.
  3. Instead of a muffin for a snack, try a serving of yogurt. This will add  30% of your daily intake of calcium and save you at least 200 calories.
  4. Switch potato chips for hard pretzels. Pretzels are salty and crunchy, but 50 g of pretzels contains 190 calories and 2 grams of fat, compared to 275 calories and 18 grams of fat in potato chips.

finishline1So it is the new year and for many people this means a chance at a fresh start and setting New Year’s resolutions.  One may have many reasons for setting goals: to finish a novel, write a thesis, lose 10 pounds, lose 100 pounds, run a marathon, or just simply to stop being a couch potato. However, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only eight percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions are successful in achieving them. Here are some tips to help increase the chances of following through with your goals.

1) First ask yourself if your long term goal is: realistic, achievable, and something that YOU want. You won’t stick to your goal if these criteria aren’t met.

2) Set up a time frame, but give yourself longer than you think you need. More often than not, something will happen that will slow you down. Plus, if you finish in less time than you thought, you will feel pretty good about yourself.

3) Set short term goals and make them ridiculously easy to achieve. This is especially important if the road to your goal is a long and daunting one. When I was writing my thesis, I made myself write one sentence per day. I found that if I started the day thinking “I have to write a 100 page paper,” I would find an excuse to put it off until the next day when I supposedly had more motivation and time. But, if I started the day thinking “I only have to write one sentence today,” I would write that sentence. Quite often that one sentence would turn into several paragraphs or pages and I would feel pretty awesome about surpassing my goal.

If your goal is to stop being a couch potato and go for a walk every day, then tell yourself that even if you don’t feel like it or you have too much to do, you will put on your shoes and walk to the end of the block. You might be surprised at how often a walk to the end of the block will inspire you to keep going.

4) If you can, set up accountability. For some reason, as humans we have a lot more trouble letting someone else down than letting ourselves down. For example if your goal is to workout twice per week at the gym, then find a friend  that will meet you there (and preferably someone that will be angry if you don’t show up). However, don’t use this person as your replacement for self-discipline.

5) Track your progress. Seeing how far you’ve come is a great motivator to keep going. Examples could be keeping a journal, making a list of short term goals and checking them off when you have achieved them, or (this might sound silly) posting a calendar on your fridge and placing a gold star on every day you achieve your goal.

6) Ask for help. This is probably my most important piece of advice. For example, if your goal is to get fit and go to the gym twice per week but you don’t know what to do when you get there, you are setting yourself up for potential failure (and maybe even an injury). Get help from a friend who knows their way around the gym, hire a personal trainer for one session to design a program and show you correct techniques, or join a fitness class.